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Prijateljice-Humanitarian Aid and Economic Recovery in Bosnia and Herzegovina
by Monika Kleck (as edited by Bill Caspary and Rima Caspary)

Prijateljice-Humanitarian Aid and Economic Recovery in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Prijateljice is a local non-governmental organization in Tuzla, Bosnia dedicated to providing support for women who have lost their homes in the Bosnian war. Prijateljice aspired to establish worker-owned and managed production and service cooperatives, as part of the economic and psychological recovery program for these women. Although the political and economic situation prevented the formation of cooperatives, a multifaceted innovative set of programs has been developed, contributing greatly to the lives of some 100 women, and providing a model for other community development and relief efforts. Monika Kleck, working for a German charitable foundation, established Prijateljice and is its coordinator. Monika attended the January, 2000, IIS conference in Cuba and spoke about their work. Here is her report, written especially for GEO.

A Mission to Support Women and Children in Bosnia

The mission of Prijateljice is to strengthen the position of women in Bosnian society and to support the development of children. For that several projects were developed, including: psycho-social support for traumatized women and children; women´s clubs; economic programs; a primary school for adults; reconciliation programs; return programs; and bringing refugees back to their home areas. The beneficiaries are displaced women who were driven from their homes in the Bosnian war. most of whom are from rural areas. They live in very unstable conditions, not knowing if they will be evicted in the next few months. They do not know what has become of their missing relatives. This is our reason for offering both psycho-social support, and salaried employment.

This report will concentrate on the economic programs. It should be understood that the women of the project are from rural backgrounds, have no prior experience in business or self-management, and have little in the way of marketable skills and education. It has been necessary to provide them with training in job skills, with further training in entrepreneurship and self-management to follow. Some of our economic projects are:

  • a sewing workshop, which produces individually designed clothes for women. Lejla Sehic (who also attended the IIS conference in Cuba, and is originally from Bosnia) meets with the clients and designs dresses for them. The women of the project cut and sew the garments.

  • a laundry for textile cleaning, carpet cleaning and car washing;

  • a nursery for plants and a landscaping service for green fields;

  • a service for cleaning, babysitting, providing care for old people, and catering.

Still Facing Political and Economic Disaster

More then seventy women have found work in these jobs. The women were trained for the jobs, the spaces were equipped, and the work started. In the first years we were quite successful. The projects ran into difficulties, however, resulting from the turbulent situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, more than four years after the end of the war. The country is still split into two entities. Hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced persons didn´t return to their homes for security reasons, for economic reasons, and because nothing has been reconstructed.

In addition, the entire country is an economic disaster area, due to a host of factors. Here are just a few of them: There are 14 different governments making laws and changing laws all the time and some of the laws are contradictory. Therefore no legal security exists for investments. The taxes and benefits take away more than 70% of business profits. Four different currencies are in use. More then 60% of the workers are unemployed, and many qualified staff people have left the country. There is some support from the government for new companies to start up, but the infrastructure of roads, plains, trains, and other transport is still being reconstructed, and is not yet adequate.

All of these adverse conditions have been very hard on Prijateljice projects in recent years. For example: the space for the laundry got very expensive; the municipality built houses, displacing the plant nursery; and the sewing workshop had a flood and lost materials. Besides that, we were hurt by the high taxes, competition from the black market (which is working fine!), and the lack of demand for products and services. Most citizens have no money and can no longer be consumers. All of this got us in serious difficulty. Therefore we decided this year not to go on the market, but to operate as a relief and educational organization offering the women, now and in the future, a safe place to work, to educate themselves, to have a kind of work therapy, without being compelled to compete economically.

Despite Adversity, Higher Aspirations Remain Intact

Prijateljice has not, however, given up its higher aspirations. For example, Lejla is getting further training in a women´s entrepreneurship course, and will bring this back to Prijateljice. She will teach women in the project to start their own businesses. Representatives of Prijateljice will attend a conference of Italian and Bosnian women entrepreneurs, organized by the Italian group with support from the European Union. The goal of the conference is to build a mutually supportive network of women´s enterprises. Nonetheless, concerning the economic projects and all other activities, Prijateljice is still dependent on donations and will continue to be in the near future.

(Note: To make donations to Prijateljice, or to find out more about their extraordinary support work, contact Len Krimerman
at lenkrimerman@uconn.cted.net .)

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